Review: Yspahan

After being interested in it for a while, I finally got a chance to play Yspahan recently. I’ve played many games now, and have learned a bunch of strategies, both from playing, and from reading posts here on the Geek. I really enjoy the game, as I think it’s very solidly designed and gives players a variety of options for winning.

The thing that really jumped out at me after the first couple of plays is that Yspahan is designed with efficiency in mind. Worrying about efficiency is important, because the game itself feels rushed, turn-wise. Nearly every time the 21st day rolls around, I find myself wishing I had a little more time, whether it be a turn or two to finish my last special building, or maybe even another week to boost my score with whichever point-producing engine I’ve built.

It’s really the game length that pushes things along. If you don’t accomplish much in a turn, you start to fall behind. If you “waste” a second turn, well, then it feels as if you’re playing catch up for the rest of the game. With precious little time to build your points up, you can’t afford to lose a moment. If the game were longer, that sense of urgency wouldn’t necessarily be there.

As so many elements of the game are tied together, an inefficient plan (or no plan at all) will severely hurt your chances of winning. Once you’ve determined an overall strategy to pursue, you need to make sure that virtually every action you take is done with the goal in mind. That being said, there are plenty of ways to help your cause, as virtually every component or action has multiple uses or ways to be helpful (for example: build with camels, discard camels in conjunction with VP card, discard camels when moving cubes to the caravan). Yes, even the game mechanics are uber-efficient, with so many options from so few components and actions.

So what does this mean? To me, it means that for the casual gamer, you’d better enjoy the mechanics (which I love), or an experienced or competitive player will run all over you. For the record, I’m not one who must win games to enjoy them. I am crazy about efficiency in my personal and professional life (don’t ask), so it bugs me when I drop the ball on a turn in Yspahan. If my points-engine isn’t running as I’d like, it gets frustrating. Doubly so if I haven’t finished the last special building, as the graduated point scale practically begs you to complete the set.

If you’re looking for a gateway game, maybe you don’t want to introduce Yspahan (which is weird, since the components are quality, colorful, and even have cameeples). If you do want to try it with non-gamers, you might want to back off on your strategies a bit when going against newbies.

I’m an avid poker player, and Yspahan reminds me of poker a lot – you can play either one for fun, but once you learn the strategies and tactics, beginners get blown out of the water. Both have somewhat unforgiving learning curves.

Bottom line: fun game, highly recommended, but to me has more of a tournament feel to it than a Saturday night hanging-out-at-a-buddy’s-house sort of game.

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